Over and Out

A lot has changed since I started this blog. I’ve moved out, finished uni, got engaged, become a qualified teacher, almost learned to drive, and been on a ferry for the first time – all equally important of course… Now I’ve moved on to this new phase of my life, a grown-up in the real world with a career who’s responsible for my fiancée and not just myself, I feel the time has come to move on from writing this blog too.

Some might say a blog is self-indulgent, a way of showing off and needily getting affirmation by likes. While I apologise for times that this has crept in, my main intention has been to point people towards Jesus and the amazing things He’s done for me, not to point towards myself. Other times it’s also been to let people who have wanted to listen hear what I’ve been thinking about, sometimes a way of processing and organising my thoughts about a topic, and sometimes just a way of being creative. In addition, through writing my blog I’ve realised more and more that even the most effective words are flawed and can only partly reflect God’s grace, holiness, power and love – He’s much too huge to be contained by any box, let alone a man-made construct like language!

As I looked back nostalgically at some of my older posts this morning, I thought about the main things my blog has discussed:

– God keeps his promises! (e.g. Turning Back the Clock)

– Manliness is about empathy, courage, and other similar internal qualities more than muscles or physical strength (e.g. Redefining Masculinity)

– Teaching is a great job in many ways but is incredibly tough (e.g. Noah)

– Jesus died for my sins so I could be in relationship with God, the Creator of the universe! (e.g. Who’s in Control?).

This blog won’t change the world, and it was never meant to. However, I hope it’s been enjoyable and beneficial to the little band of people who have chosen to listen to what I had to say. Thanks for reading!

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#Vision

Five weeks into my teacher training course, I’m exhausted. Yeah on the whole I’m having a great time, the people are really cool, and most of the sessions are helpful, but the days are so long (two days this week were 8am-7.30pm) and I’m exhausted. One of the many buzz words we’re frequently exposed to is ‘vision’ – others include leadership, resilience, values, journey, collaboration, growth mindsets, and inclusion – and while we joke about how often the word ‘vision’ is used, it really is SO important to have a driving force behind what you’re doing. If you have no deeper reason for going into teaching except for earning some money, you’ll have nothing to push you to keep going when the going gets tough. So after ‘reflecting’ (that’s another buzz word), here’s my vision…

If I had to pick one reason why I chose to go into teaching, it would be to be a positive male role model to children who don’t have one. (I’ve written about this here and here, so I won’t go into detail again…) But after hearing about Teach First’s vision, that ‘no child’s educational success should be limited by their socio-economic background’, my vision altered to include this, and a major driving force for me now is that as a teacher I will help to bridge the gap between the rich and poor in my classroom through the transformative power of education, giving children from low-income backgrounds the opportunity to have a successful and fulfilling life not held back by limitations that aren’t their fault. How will I do that? By having high expectations for all, regardless of background; allowing no excuses for my children not succeeding; setting work that stretches ALL children and moves them forward (i.e. good planning and ‘differentiation’); and promoting high aspirations in the children for their futures. Furthermore, as a Christian I also believe it’s important to give my children a chance to hear about Jesus and His amazing love for us, and the extent to which I can (and should) do this in school will probably be something I wrestle with over the two-year course and beyond. (Of course, I wanted a teaching job for selfish reasons too, to earn money to support myself and hopefully a family one day, and to feel good about myself for making a positive contribution to the world, but I like to think they’re of secondary importance to these other things!)

Proverbs 22:6 (from the Bible) kind of sums up why I’m doing primary teaching. It says:
‘Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it’. Some would label this as idealistic, and I see their point; even a child with a great start in life may go off the rails later. However, setting them up in the right way makes it much more likely that they will succeed in the future. Children are so impressionable, especially when they are primary school age, and excellent teachers at this stage makes it much more likely that they will succeed later, equipping them with knowledge, skills, and qualities to have a great life and break past limitations imposed on them.

While writing this, I also thought about what values I actually want to model for my children. I want them to have resilience, empathy, selflessness, courage, self-belief, creativity, and a love for learning. I also want them to see that being a man isn’t necessarily about being physically strong or aggressive, and that instead it’s more about having these qualities listed above. Inspiring these qualities in them starts with me, though, so I need to keep developing these qualities in myself if I want my children to have them too.

So if at any point during the next two years and beyond I moan about my massive workload, my lack of sleep and/or social life, or how that one child in my class just won’t behave, pleeease point me back to this blog post. This is why I’m becoming a teacher; I want to make a difference, I want to be the change I want to see, and I want to help change lives. I can’t do it on my own though; I’ll need the support of my family, friends, and most importantly God, the One who gives me strength to succeed, but ultimately I will succeed and I will be the leader/teacher/human I’m meant to be, helping my children become who they’re meant to be in the process.

Redefining masculinity

Captain America

Captain America: a Marvel-lous example of hypermasculinity…

Society has a huge problem. It is dangerous and highly pervasive, yet normally remains undetected. Have you guessed it yet? It’s a skewed definition of masculinity. Today millions of young people around the world are without positive male role models, and the problem is getting worse. In 2012, 1 in 3 U.S. children (15 million individuals) lived without a father, three times more than in 1960 (Washington Times, 2012). While many of those fathers may still be in contact with their children and may be excellent role models to them, I suspect that number is balanced out by those fathers who, despite sticking around to help raise their children, aren’t good role models at all. Many boys and young men are desperately searching for a pattern to follow to show them how to become a man, and if they don’t have one in the family home, it makes sense for them to look to their teachers at school. However, as a quarter of primary schools in England are staffed entirely by women and men only present 12% of the primary school workforce (Daily Telegraph, 2013), that search may prove futile, causing them to turn to other sources; characters on TV and in films, for example. While watching the film Captain America 2 a while ago, I was struck by its unhelpful portrayal of masculinity, and I soon realised that most superhero films I’d seen portrayed a similarly unhelpful image.

To be fair to Captain America, he does show some genuinely desirable masculine traits, such as unwavering loyalty to his best friend and his boss, and a drive to make a difference to society. However, they remain overshadowed by his overly-muscly body, and the film actually portrays the message that without his muscles, Captain America would be a failure: skinny, powerless, and undesirable in the eyes of women. He is a striking example of ‘hypermasculinity’, ‘a psychological term for the exaggeration of male stereotypical behavior, such as an emphasis on physical strength, aggression, and sexuality’ (Wikipedia, 2014). It’s a similar story with the Hulk, whose physical prowess and aggression are his dominant features. Furthermore, the Hulk’s strength comes from getting angry, suggesting to the film’s audience that it’s okay to become angry and wreak destruction to achieve a certain end. Iron Man, too, portrays a similarly problematic pattern: Tony Stark cannot save the world as himself, so instead he clothes himself in a big metal suit to do so. Superman, Spiderman, and Batman also have to conceal their true identity behind a costume, portraying the message that they can only succeed by adopting a constructed persona and concealing the real person beneath. Furthermore, all these male heroes have an attractive girl by their side, encouraging us to believe that real men need to have a woman to define themselves against.

So in a nutshell, these films portray the message that to be a real man, you need to have big muscles, be physically powerful, be angry, conceal the real ‘you’, and be in a relationship. They also portray women as weaker than, and reliant upon, men, reinforcing sexist discourse in society. Just to clarify, I do really enjoy watching these superhero films, and I could have picked lots of other examples of ‘role models’ who portray skewed versions of masculinity (e.g. many footballers, pop-stars, and other characters on TV and in films), which unfortunately demonstrates how widespread the problem is. However good these films are, though, they provide undeniable evidence of the skewed version of masculinity valued and perpetuated by our society (even the term ‘superheroes’ sets these characters up as ideals to be aspired to!) which actually puts intense pressure on men to conform to a standard they can never reach.

The effects of males having poor role models can be seen in the ‘lad culture’ which is all too visible at uni, pressurising young men to sleep around, get drunk on a regular basis, and be incredibly misogynist. However, as ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness’ (the awesome quote which Amnesty International’s iconic logo is based on), I’m going to end this blog post by giving three excellent examples of what a man should be like. The first is a guy called Gideon, who I’ve actually mentioned on my blog before. Despite seeing himself as weak and feeble, he was commanded to lead an army, and with him in charge they won a memorable victory against their enemies, demonstrating courage and assertive leadership in the process. The second is someone called Daniel, who was a highly educated young man taken prisoner in a foreign country. Despite unbelievable pressure to give up everything he believed in to fit this new culture, he refused to compromise his identity and core beliefs and was eventually rewarded with status and success as a reward for his conduct. And the third is called Jesus, who loved His friends so much – ordinary people like you and me – that He sacrificed His own life to save them from death. Even under intense pressure He demonstrated resilience and determination, doing whatever it took to keep His promise. Also, the shortest verse in the Bible – ‘Jesus wept’ – shows us that real men are allowed to cry; we don’t have to conceal our emotions behind a constructed persona.

Contrary to what society might tell us, then, real men aren’t those who get hench, get drunk, and get laid; real men are selfless, have conviction in their beliefs, take responsibility for effecting positive change, and have the courage, wisdom, sensitivity and empathy to lead well. Society needs more men like this today if masculinity is to be redefined and if all boys and young men are to have access to positive male role models. In the words of Kid President, ‘Grown ups, it’s scary but true: kids are learning how to be people by watching you.’